AN: I've had this idea in my head for months now, and I'm happy to finally be able to present it to you. I don't want to ramble on here forever so I'll just leave the first chapter here. I hope you all enjoy. :)
~Chapter One: First Encounter~
He couldn't make his bowtie work.
Mario frowned at his reflection, hands moving this way and that as he desperately attempted to make a flawless bowtie like the ones his father and brother proudly wore. After his fourth failed attempt he sighed in frustration realizing he would need assistance with his clothing and called out to his mother who rushed up the stairs to her son's room in less than a minute, already dressed in a red ball gown and her hair piled in curls that bounced with every step she took.
"Oh Mario," his mother tutted, taking the bowtie from her son and standing behind him, their eyes meeting in the mirror as she did the bowtie in one try and spun her son to face her. "Please try to remember how to properly tie up a bowtie. You're thirteen now for goodness sake! I can't be around to help you forever!"
Mario's eyes fell to the ground. "Sì, Mama." he mumbled unenthusiastically. His mother lifted his chin with her hand.
"Now remember to be on your best behavior tonight," she sang, fixing Mario's clothing. "Several members of the royal family will be there, and we want to make sure that we leave a good impression on the guests!"
But why? Mario thought as he was whisked downstairs by his mother where his father and brother, Luigi, were patiently waiting. Luigi cast his brother a side-glance and small smile before turning his attention to their parents who whispered to themselves before their mother gave a wide smile that showed her perfect teeth. She ushered her sons outside and directed them into the carriage before she got in with her husband, motioning to the tall, thin rider in purple that they were ready to go. After a moment the carriage began its journey down the gravel road and Mario stared out the window gazing out into the expansive forest next to the road. The forest where creatures known as the Anthro's were said to live, horrific mutations of animals that stood on two feet and had developed enough to understand and speak human speech. His mother had always warned him and Luigi about going into the forest as the Anthro's had apparently developed a taste for human flesh and wouldn't think twice about ripping them apart. Mario had always been skeptical about that, but it had scared Luigi enough that he took it as fact and nothing was going to change his mind. The only thing Mario could think of is how people seemed to know so much about the Anthro's, but yet had never tried talking to them, just assuming the worst without actually knowing what they were like first.
The carriage's journey ended at the entrance of a large palace that may as well of been Mario's second home. He wasn't sure how or why it had happened, but he and his family had grown close to the royal family of the Mushroom Kingdom, the King and Queen and their daughter, Princess Peach Toadstool. Since Mario and the Princess were the same age they naturally got along well with each other, and Luigi had grown close with the Princess' cousin, Princess Daisy of Sarasaland. From his understanding Daisy was attending this event, so he fully expected to be in the company of Peach the entire night.
"Remember - best behavior!" their mother reminded as the family emerged from the carriage and headed up the palace stairs, being greeted by a servant standing at the door. Mario entered and was immediately overtaken by just how fancy the palace had been decorated. Banners for every families royal crest hung from the ceiling and servants lined the halls, directing the guests into the ballroom. The ballroom had tables draped with the finest cloth pushed against the sides of the room while a buffet line with the most mouthwatering food had been set up in the back of the room. Mario's mouth watered as he caught sight of a ham glazed with honey and for a moment contemplated spending the night hiding under the buffet table digging into as much food as he could.
"Mario! Luigi!" a feminine voice cut through the air and before Mario could react a blonde girl wearing a pink ballgown had wrapped her arms around him in a hug before doing the same to Luigi. "I'm so glad you two are here!"
"Princess Peach, it is a pleasure to see you." their father addressed. "Have you seen your father by any chance? There is a matter I need to discuss with him."
"He should be in the throne room at the moment." Peach answered politely. Their father chuckled and clasped in hand in his wife's.
"You two keep the Princess company. We'll be back shortly."
Mario watched his parents wander away before he turned his attention back towards Peach who beamed brightly and grabbed both of the brothers wrists, dragging them over towards the buffet. "Father said that we shouldn't eat anything until the other guests arrive, but I've been sneaking food all night and no one's caught me yet. Just make sure it's something that's barely noticeable like grapes or something." she then noticed someone entering the ballroom and covered her squeal of excitement. "Daisy! Over here!"
"Daisy?" Luigi stammered nervously as the auburn haired Princess of Sarasaland approached their small group. Daisy gave a hug to her cousin before curtsying both Mario and Luigi.
"A pleasure to see you again." she greeted before grabbing a grape from the bowl and popping it in her mouth, grinning at Luigi. "Whaddya say Weeg? Wanna dance?"
"There's no music..." Luigi began, but it didn't deter Daisy as she linked her arm in Luigi's and pulled him onto the ballroom floor.
"So what?" she replied. "You don't need music to have a good time!"
Mario watched his brother before he gazed at Peach, chuckling nervously. "Did you perhaps want to dance as well?" he asked, and while Peach seemed flattered by the offer she shook her head.
"You don't have to feel pressured to dance with me just because your brother and my cousin are," she pointed out. "We both know that their relationship is closer than the one we have." Peach frowned, looking around for a moment before dragging Mario off to the side. "Have your parents been acting a bit strange lately?"
"How so?" Mario curiously questioned, tilting his head.
"Mother told me to be on my best behavior tonight and to stay by your side as much as I could. She also never told me what this ball was for either, so I was just wondering..."
"Mama did say something like that to me as well." Mario realized. Before the young teenagers could dwell on it any further the sound of trumpets cut through the air, alerting the guests that the King and Queen were entering. The ball was about to start.
Mario had to admit, he was beginning to have fun at the ball. Peach was providing to be great company and his brother and Daisy were having the time of their lives on the dance floor. He couldn't help but notice his parents and the King and Queen staring at him and Peach though, observing their every interaction together. In all honesty, it was making them both a little bit uncomfortable.
At some point Peach had been called away by her father leaving Mario by himself near the buffet. He was just about to dig into a particularly delicious looking slice of ham when his father approached him, grinning from ear to ear. "Ah good, Mario! Could you come with me for a second, there's something I need to discuss with you."
Mario glanced down at his plate of food and back up at his father before he sighed and halfheartedly left his plate at the table, following his father out of the ballroom and into the throne room where King Toadstool stood with his wife, Peach standing between them looking confused.
"Papa?" Mario asked. "What-"
"Master Mario," the King spoke, glancing down at him. "You are close friends with my daughter, correct?"
"I - sì.?" Mario replied, confused and not sure where the conversation was heading.
"And you would do anything to protect her, right?"
"Of course." Mario responded almost immediately. The King nodded, glanced at his wife and grinned at Mario.
"It is decided then. You and Peach shall be wed when you are both twenty-one years of age."
"What?!" Both Mario and Peach blurted, looking between themselves then back at their respective parents. Surely they weren't being serious, they didn't even like each other in that way!
"We shall make the announcement public within just a few minutes," the King spoke, snapping Mario out of his thoughts. "What a joyous occasion this is, announcing the engagement of my daughter."
"Father, Mother, wait!" Peach pleaded as she raced after her parents who were exiting the room. Meanwhile Mario stood frozen, trying to process what had just occurred.
Married... to Peach? Husband and wife? His father clapped him on the shoulder and exited to the main ballroom again leaving Mario alone in the throne room. He couldn't breathe, the air was far too stuffy and his bowtie was too tight. Without really thinking about it he bolted from the throne room and out of the palace entirely. Some fresh air would him good.
As soon as Mario was a respectable enough distance away from the palace he loosened his tie and breathed in the fresh night air. Crickets chirped as he gazed up at the moon, trying to organize his jumbled thoughts.
Was this why his mother kept saying that he should be on his best behavior? Because the kingdom needed to see him as fit to be wed to the Princess? He didn't want to believe it but...
A twig snapping caught his attention and he immediately turned to where the sound had come from. The forest. He hesitantly gazed into the thick growth of bushes and trees, hearing another snap, closer this time. Anxious but also curious Mario took a small step forward. "Is someone there?" he called out, trying to sound brave but his voice cracked on the last syllable.
From the darkness Mario spied something moving, and the light of the moon reflected off whoever was in the forest revealing their eyes. Mario yelped as the figure hurried deeper into the forest, leaving him with rattled and frayed nerves.
"Mario! There you are!" the voice of his mother cut through the air and Mario winced, turning and fully prepared to accept the scolding he was sure to get. "I take my eyes off of you for one minute and you scamper off! And, oh, your tie is loose and everything." she fussed, fixing his bowtie and sighing in agitation. "Now come on! The engagement announcement is about to be made."
Mario felt his heart drop and he nodded, allowing his mother to drag him back into the palace while he kept his eyes fixed on the forest, wondering what was watching him from the thick of the bushes.
He wasn't supposed to stray too far from camp, but he couldn't help it! He found the humans fascinating, and this night seemed to be an important one as several humans were showing up at the large house that Vanilla had called a palace. He watched as the humans dressed in fancy clothing exited from the horse drawn carriages and entered the palace, one by one. He wondered what was happening in there, and if there was any food inside. His stomach growled loudly, food had been scarce lately and rumors of hunters had forced them farther into the forest so they couldn't go out and search that often. With his speed he could probably make it into the palace, swipe some food and head back to camp, but he'd never hear the end of it from Shadow and Vanilla had always warned that humans could still follow him back to their camp. So he just stayed in the bushes, watching and observing.
After a while all the guests had entered the building and he got a bit bored just watching nothing happen. He turned to head back to camp until he heard footsteps rushing out of the palace and he turned, watching as a boy emerged and loosened his tie. He looked shaken, like he'd seen a ghost. The boy gazed up at the sky, obviously looking at the moon and he curiously tilted his head and wandered forward, accidentally breaking a twig in the process.
The boy's head swiveled towards the sound and he, curious as ever, took another step forward, wincing as another twig snapped. They boy surprisingly moved closer towards the forest. "Is someone there?"
"Sonic!" a voice hissed from the darkness of the woods. "What are you doing? Get back here!"
Sonic winced, recognizing Shadow's voice and rather guiltily hurried towards his fellow camp mate who punched him right in the arm when he approached. Shadow berated Sonic about his behavior and how he should stay away from the humans as they were all dangerous, and how by being so close to one he'd put them all in danger. Sonic didn't think so. After all, the boy looked around the same age as him. How could he be dangerous?
He received his answer mere hours later when the boy entered the forest.